SAUGUS — Permitting of the 198-unit residential housing project at the Kowloon restaurant site will take approvals from several permit-granting bodies, but the restaurant is planning to stay open throughout construction.
The informal discussion session for the Kowloon project held by the Planning Board last Thursday, at the request of the Board of Selectmen, helped clarify which board has what authority and gave the developer’s team a chance to describe the proposed project in more detail.
“(An) informal pre-application meeting is provided for in the zoning bylaw in the Route 1 zoning subdistrict for a developer to come in and go over the proposal that they are looking to develop for the site and get some guidance from the town government about how to proceed,” said Attorney Jesse Schomer form Regnante Sterio LLP, who serves as a special town counsel for the Town of Saugus on development matters.
Route 1 has a complicated zoning bylaw, Schomer said, and the project might need three boards to grant permits: the Board of Selectmen, the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals, on top of any other potential permitting, for example, related to conservation. The developers – the Wong family, who own two parcels of land between the Kowloon restaurant and the Red Robin hotel – have currently filed only an application with the Board of Selectmen for a special permit to exceed the permitted height for the project.
The project will eventually come to the Planning Board as a formal matter because it is the permit-granting authority under the Route 1 Zoning Subdistrict Master Plan, as well as for the site plan review which is required in this zoning subdistrict, Schomer said.
“This one is a particularly unique case because of the fact that the application was filed initially with the Board of Selectmen without concurrent filings with this board,” Schomer said.
The Wongs are looking to build two mixed-use apartment buildings on seven acres of land they own at 948 Broadway in Saugus. They intend to keep and maintain this property themselves indefinitely.
The height allowed by the bylaw is 55 feet, or four floors, said Attorney Richard Magnan, who represents the Wong family. However, the ultimate height that can be achieved with a special permit is 90 feet and six floors. The petitioner has requested to increase the height to 67 feet 8 inches, Magnan said.
The project proposes to build the two five-story apartment buildings toward the front of the lot to create as much buffer as possible with private homes in the back. The added height is needed to not overpopulate the site with more buildings, said Michale McKeown, senior architect from Dennis Mires PA, The Architects.
The original plan was to build up to 220 units on the site, said McKeown, but after several formal and informal meetings with the town, the developers decided to reduce the number of units by 10 percent to 198. That will increase the rear setback from private residential abutters from 50 feet to 100 feet.
The developers will bolster the current retaining wall and provide much more privacy to the abutters with vegetation.
“And that was their request, to add vegetation in the back,” said McKeown, as the preliminary plans were communicated to the abutters.
The property will have walkable areas, pocket parks and dog areas to meet the zoning requirement.
The buildings will accommodate commercial space on the first floor. Visitors and commercial vehicles arriving at the first-floor businesses would only use the front of the site; the residential parking will be in the rear.
The project allows for 337 parking spaces: 198 spaces for 198 one-bedroom units; 80 spaces for Kowloon, which will have about 320 seats; and 59 spaces for commercial tenants.
Kowloon will relocate to the first floor of one of the buildings. It will have about one third of its current 1600-seat capacity and a drive-thru, the architect said. The intention is to never shut down the restaurant so, at first, a temporary restaurant will be built in the building that will go up first.
The buildings will be constructed out of steel with poured concrete floors and a lot of glass used on the first floor, McKeown said, which will stand the test of time.
“We spent a lot of time on this design and want this to be the right aesthetic for Route 1,” he said. “We are trying to put our best foot forward here to create an excellent project for Saugus.”
Almost the entire Board of Selectmen was present at the Planning Board meeting.
“The Board of Selectmen is trying to do the Planning Board’s job and it is not our job,” said Anthony Cogliano, chairman of the Board of Selectmen. “I have full confidence in every member of the Planning Board and the planning department and engineers that they are going to have full oversight in this project.”
Jeff Cicolini, another member of the Board of Selectmen, said that he expected this informal meeting to give the two boards an opportunity to discuss the project in an informal way because it would inform the decision the Board of Selectmen will make on Tuesday on the special permit. Cicolini was interested in attaching a condition to the special permit by asking the developers to only build one-bedroom units with that height variance.
Schomer said that, typically, special permits allow for additional conditions, but whether a height permit can have a stipulation about the number of bedrooms has to be determined separately.
Board of Selectmen member Debra Panetta said she appreciated the reduced number of units and extra space added to the buffer zone with the abutters.